Big Spring community rallies to honor unattended Vietnam veteran funeral

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BIG SPRING, Tx. (KOSA) - A Vietnam veteran without any surviving family members was expected to only have a few mourners at his funeral service

But fortunately, that was not the case.

A massive crowd turned out for the funeral service of Michael James McGrath.

Dozens of people he’d never even met all taking the time to salute the fallen veteran who served their country.

“I think it’s amazing,” Gardendale Volunteer Fire Department Captain Jimmy Olivares said. “I think it’s amazing that everybody stepped up like this and wanted to give their support. I mean that shows a lot about our community and who we are.”

Mike Tarpley is a fellow Vietnam veteran who has played taps for nearly 200 veteran funerals.

He helped spread the word after he found out about McGrath’s situation and he said it didn’t take long for Facebook posts to go viral and funeral guests to come pouring into the cemetery ready to pay their respects.

Tarpley didn’t know McGrath but, like any other veteran, he said it’s his mission to have his back.

“Back in Vietnam when we lost somebody, we promised we would never leave him on the battlefield and that’s why I’m here today,” Tarpley said. “We did not leave a man behind.”

Veterans Administration Chaplain Jon Van Dop said he was shocked to see how many people came to help make McGrath’s service special and said it’s a testament of Big Spring’s loyalty and comradery to one another.

“I was amazed, and it gave me faith,” Van Dop said. “It gave me faith on our community. It gave me faith in the people that are around us that there are people who are willing to take the time and my hope is that faith extends to people that are still with us.”

Friends of McGrath who didn’t want to speak on camera say the Vietnam veteran was a kind, humble man would have been overwhelmed with joy to see what his community did for him.